Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Real Total Depravity

I was taught in school--usually around Thanksgiving--that the Puritans came to the New World for religious freedom, but the truth is more complicated. What they really wanted was to be free to impose their own beliefs on everyone else, hence the Salem witchcraft trials.

I’m not religious. Christian ethics (I believe in doing unto others as I would have them do unto me) are fine. But theology only seems good for persecuting others.

And whenever fanatics get involved in politics, they inevitably try to impose their own dogmatic views on everyone else. Besides the Salem witchcraft trials (during which innocent women were drowned by Puritans; they knew they were innocent because witches could swim), witness Prohibition, old-time Sunday “blue laws,” and the never-ending brouhaha over abortion, to name but a few of the most obvious examples.

The latest involves Calvinism, which according to The Courier-Journal is being supported and disseminated by Louisville’s very own Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

This is extremely regrettable and dangerous.

According to the Courier-Journal, an Owensboro preacher, the Rev. Jamus Edwards, recently told his congregation, “If you’re a Christian, it’s not because you found Jesus” but because “You’re the kind of person Jesus has come to save.”

The newspaper report says, “Louisville’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—from which Edwards graduated in 2008—is playing a leading role in training and sending out pastors influenced by such views….

“Critics see in the New Calvinism a ruthless approach to both salvation and human affairs—with God destining some people for eternal damnation and many to natural disasters, torture and other earthly miseries.”

Count me among them.

So who was this Calvin guy and why are his ideas so bad for you?

John Calvin (1509-1564) was a French reformer who belongs to the second phase of the Protestant Reformation. Calvin was one of the originators of predestination and the doctrine of total depravity.

Calvinists believe humans are morally unable to choose to follow God; therefore, unless you’re one of “the elect” chosen by God at birth to be saved, you’re predestined to be eternally damned--and can do nothing about it.

It was bad enough before when seminarians were trumpeting Evangelicalism, which at least was inclusive, offering the possibility of salvation from hell fire to everyone who bought into their dogmas. But now they’re selling the idea that those who succeed do so only because are chosen by God; the rest of humanity need not apply.

So forget about free will. Or freedom, period.

This notion of “predestination” is entirely consistent with the economic and social exclusivity being preached by Tea Party Republicans. It’s also very convenient for the piggish right. Remember what Orwell says in 1984? “Some pigs are more equal than others.”

The ultra rich like Mr. Mitt Romney have always felt entitled to their privileged position. The Republican front runner has admitted he doesn’t care about the very poor (on videotape where it can’t be denied or unsaid). Perhaps he’s too busy swimming in his $23-million a year money bin.

Calvinism’s a bit more complicated with Romney, a Mormon, because his church prefers the term “fore-ordained” to predestination and believes that here in the “pre-earth” life the elect were fore-ordained--chosen, called, or assigned--to do specific things in this life.

But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the distinction-crushers of this world will always triumph. It’s predestined.  Fore-ordained.

This latest lurch by the religious right represents (as Milton says in Paradise Lost) yet another attempt to justify the ways of God to man--but only so long as they’re favored. Perhaps those not yet among the elect one percent also believe that God has a plan to promote them here on earth.

This is the real total depravity.

If they have their way, we’ll all soon find ourselves “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” as our Puritan ancestors believed and Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) famously preached.

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